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Discovery Channel developed “Hello World” as a bid to shake up the nature-programming genre. The six-part series explores species and habitats through the eyes of six musical artists: Usher, Christina Aguilera, Steven Tyler, Ellie Goulding, Joan Jett, and Dave Matthews. Produced in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund and Radical Media, the show uses the artists’ lyrics, music, and commentary as a soundtrack for footage of animals in the wild.

Two Step Up: The show required some original thinking, and two production team members in particular contributed their unique experiences: Writer and supervising producer Andy Yerkes, who has a background in children’s programming, is a former speechwriter for the Environmental Protection Agency; and editor Vito DeCandia has cut nonfiction content and musical productions, including installments of the “American Express Unstaged” concert series.

A Sound Plan: The clips didn’t have the sound quality DeCandia wanted, because camera operators shooting animals in nature often use a long lens from a great distance. That meant sound design was a separate component of the production. While each episode is musically driven, the diegetic sounds of nature and animals are layered in a separate track.

Freestyle Writing: Yerkes wrote episodes anticipating the vocal style of the targeted artists, enabling them
to contribute to the tone of the voiceover. “It was important to leave the writing open for their interpretation,”
he says.

A Sliding Scale: Once told who would be performing, DeCandia anticipated their speech rhythms and laid down basic edits. The final structure was dictated by the musicians’ songs. Because the talent had varying degrees of voiceover experience, the production team recorded each session in stages. First, the artists were brought into a screening room where their initial reactions to watching a temp track were recorded for later use. After the scripts were reworked with the artist’s contributions, the episode’s voiceover session was recorded. An optional third session was available for artists to record the story in their own words. Says Yerkes, “They had great ideas, and sometimes we were rewriting in the recording sessions.”

Taming the Footage: DeCandia and his team were overwhelmed by the beauty of the footage they were given to work with. Whittling it down was their main challenge. “I felt like I was in a playground,” he says. “There was so much good material and I wanted to try to get it all in.”